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Six

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You are confused.

Nina's always described her house to be like something out of a movie – big and tall, with beautiful flowers and ponds. When you're staring at it, however, it looks even smaller than your own home, and the only flowers you can see are the dead ones over by the driveway, which is full of holes and rocks.

You pause, hesitant, as Nina beckons you over, oblivious to your discomfort.

"Look, Darcy," she exclaims, pointing to a large dog that has emerged from the house, its tail wagging. "Pickles is happy to see you!"

You look at Pickles, and the same kind of fear that you felt all that time ago, on your first of day of school, is beginning to come back. He comes towards you and then barks, and you can feel your eyes begin to tear up.

"Pickles," Nina calls, and all you want is for him to go away. "Pickles!"

All you can remember is that time that the next-door neighbour's dog escaped and ran into your back-yard, when you were playing with Oliver. He was big and mean and you were terrified, but you stood in front so Olly wouldn't get hurt, hoping that the dog would go away.

But he didn't – he ran towards you, and sometimes you still see his sharp, drool-covered teeth in your nightmares. You were frightened, but you remember how you had to protect your baby brother. Only this time there isn't any one to protect, and all you can wish is that someone will protect you from this dog in the same way you did with Oliver.

Pickles growls again, and you can't help but notice just how much Pickles' teeth look like your next-door neighbour's dog's.

You skirt away, trying to hide behind Nina, but she is having none of it.

"What's the matter?" she asks, although you think that she doesn't truly want to know. "You scared?"

You don't answer; instead you're too busy staring at those large, yellow teeth in the dog's mouth. You start shaking, and you think that at any moment you might start to cry.

"Pickles," Nina coos again, and this time he comes right up to you. You shriek, panicking, and Nina lets out a surprised laugh. "Darcy," she accuses, "you are—"

"Leave her alone, Nina," says Nash, emerging from the house. You watch as the door nearly falls off its hinges, and can't help but wonder why it is that Nina has told you that her house is 'beautiful'. You can't remember Nash ever saying anything about his house.

Nina pouts. "I just wanted her to play with Pickles," she tells him, as though you are not standing right next to her.

Nash glares at her. "Well, can't you tell that she doesn't want to?" He moves to stand next to you, and you look at him gratefully, although wondering how he knows that you're afraid of dogs. You wonder just how it is that he always seems to know everything about you.

"Of course she wants to," Nina scoffs, looking at you for confirmation.

You hesitate, unsure, but then Pickles growls again and your mind is made up for you. You shake your head shyly, avoiding eye contact.

She looks at you incredulously. "Why did you even come over then?" she huffs, looking sulkily at the two of you. "I thought you wanted to see my house. If I knew that you were just going to cry I would have invited Emily instead."

This confession only makes the tears well up more heavily, but Nina is angry and she doesn't seem to care. You sniff, wishing that you were at home with your mum and dad and brother; that you'd never bought into Nina's lies about her house with a 'fountain'.

"Nina," Nash yells, but Nina is already walking away with Pickles following faithfully at her side, until you hear the door slam and realise that she has left you out her all alone.

"I'm really sorry, Darcy," Nash tells you sincerely, and you smile half-heartedly at him. "Sometimes, I reckon she's worse than Paul."

This makes you smile a bit wider, if only because you think that no one can be worse than Paul.

"Seriously," he continues, "did you know that last week, she made Laurel cry just by looking at her?"

You giggle, and encouraged, he leads you into the backyard. "And when we got home from school," he confides, "she was still crying!"

There are two swings in the backyard, and you each sit down on one. He stops for a moment and rummages in his pocket, producing two red-skins and handing you one. "Don't worry; I stole them from Nina's lolly stash."

The two of you are quiet for a moment, and you gather your courage. Because, suddenly, you feel like you can tell him anything. It's the best feeling you've had all week.

"Nina said... Nina said that you've got a pool," you tell him. "And that your house was pink and white... and that there were flowers everywhere."

He looks at you for a moment, and then he laughs. "Nina's never happy with what she's got," he says simply. He stares at you for longer, and you have to look away.

"D'you think..." you start to ask, but the words get stuck in your mouth and you stop, refocusing your attention on your red-skin.

"We're friends, aren't we?" he asks suddenly, and you very nearly choke on the lolly in your mouth.

Instead you pause for a moment, gauging his expression. He looks at you, and instead of the feeling you get when you're with Nina, as though she's not quite happy with you – with whom you are – you don't feel that from Nash. All you can tell is that he is here, being nice to you when Nina isn't, and you suppose that is what a friend does.

They are there for you. So you nod and smile, and he smiles back in return.

"Do you want to go at the last of Nina's chocolate ice cream?"

You say that you do, and then the two of you together go into the house that is not pink and white, nor does it have a pool or a nice garden – but it is a house that Nash is comfortable showing you, and a house than Nina no longer has any intention of showing you.

And when the pantry door falls off, he doesn't get embarrassed and he doesn't leave you standing in the middle of the lawn with a scary dog like Nina would. Instead he laughs, and you laugh with him, because that is what friends do.

They are there for each other.

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A/N: Just for future reference, the reason that these chapters are so short is because I'm only intending this story to be a novella. There are still a hell of a lot of chapters left, of course, but I doubt that they're going to get too much longer than One, Three or Five. But yeah, thanks for reading. :-)